The easy grace, loopy self-deprecating humor and deft handling of the American Songbook standards that Meg Mackay and Billy Philadelphia display is a family jewel they have been polishing for decades.
The pair — which appears this week at Society Cabaret at the Hotel Rex — met while working together briefly on “Beach Blanket Babylon” in 1980, but it was just a job for the singer-actress and pianist-singer-composer.
“We both were involved with other people at the time,” Philadelphia says.
Ten years later, Mackay returned to The City after some New York gigs. “I thought, ‘Wow! Billy’s married now. Got children, too.’ Then, he wasn’t married anymore. Since I had a big crush on him from the first time I met him I did kinda chase him and it didn’t take long! He was an easy mark. Still is,” she laughs.
Philadelphia deadpans just one word: “Pushover!”
Long called one of the “first couples” of cabaret, they could now be considered the Bay Area Barrymores, with sons Will and Elijah Trichon (Philadelphia’s birth name) both forging theater careers.
The boys weren’t “born in a trunk,” as the Judy Garland song goes, but Mackay says “they did see a lot of shows from a very young age on.”
Rehearsals, too. When Philadelphia was working with Broadway chanteuse Liliane Montevecchi, he recalls 6-year-old Eli sizing up the leggy French singer-dancer with “Oooh! Nice!”
The couple raised the boys in The City’s Castro neighborhood. Each got a theater degree — Will in New York, Eli in Los Angeles — and then traded coasts. Will recently completed a run at the Boxcar Theatre’s “The Speakeasy” and Eli is currently in “The Mysteries” at the Flea Theater in Manhattan, N.Y.
About a decade ago, real estate machinations forced the clan from their longtime Castro home to the Avenues and, as is the case for many San Francisco renters that includes a high percentage of working artists, when they were ready to buy, the market had squeezed them out.
Refuge was Pacifica, “where the musicians are!” Mackay says. “It’s darling and we have a fabulous view of the ocean.”
It is also where Mackay recovered from back surgery, a situation that kept their act off the books for the past two years.
She’s back on her feet, but shrinking venue options and audience erosion from expanding digital entertainment options are major challenges in today’s arts market.
“Cabaret is not a living,” Mackay says bluntly. “But honestly we just can’t leave it alone. It’s that artist thing. If you’re not creating, what are you really doing?”
IF YOU GO
Meg Mackay and Billy Philadelphia
Presented by Society Cabaret
Where: Hotel Rex, 562 Sutter St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Tickets: $26 to $50
Contact: (415) 857-1896, www.societycabaret.com